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May the 4s be with you as Navy changes working uniform after 80 years
19 March 2015

The biggest change to the Royal Navy’s working uniform in 80 years has begun with the first sailors receiving new working dress.

T-shirts, fleeces and jackets will now be the standard wear of officers and ranks as No.4s, first introduced in the 1930s, are replaced.

HMS Lancaster’s MA Mark Jackson in the old No.4s and his boss Surg Lt Robert Strachan in the new uniform. Pictures: LA(Phot) Des Wade

THE biggest change to the Royal Navy’s working uniform in 80 years has begun with the first sailors receiving new working dress.

T-shirts, fleeces and jackets will now be the standard wear of officers and ranks.

For although updated and with different materials used in the manufacture, the Royal Navy’s daily working rig – known as No.4s – hasn’t fundamentally changed, certainly not visually, since the current uniform was introduced in the 1930s.

Its successor – the Personal Clothing System, although in day-to-day Jackspeak it’ll still be referred to as No.4s – is more comfortable, more modern, and more resistant to fire.

The biggest difference the public will notice is that the shirts are dark, not light blue.

That’s part of the drive to give to make the uniform look 21st Century in keeping with modern ships and modern technology. It’s also branded with a large White Ensign on the left shoulder

As well as these cosmetic changes, the replacement clothing is flash retardant – giving sailors four seconds to act should they be touched by fire – and a ‘layered approach’ should make the wearer much more comfortable.

Standard wear will be T-shirt, jacket and trousers. In cold climes, personnel can add a microfleece. In warmer parts of the world, T-shirt and trousers will suffice.

LET(WE) Chris Elliott at work aboard HMS Lancaster in the new uniform

The men and women of HMS Lancaster are the first to deploy in the new No.4s, testing it in the heat of the Caribbean in the spring and summer, and the cold of the South Atlantic in the austral winter.

“We’re extremely proud – and genuinely delighted – to be the first ship to wear the new uniform,” said Cdr Peter Laughton, the Red Rose’s Commanding Officer.

“It is a really practical, smart and modern uniform, and the extra branding allows us to much better represent our Service.

“This will most certainly be the case during our current deployment where we are due to transit in excess of 30,000 nautical miles and visit up to 18 different countries.”

AB(CIS) Sam Scott and shipmate LET(WE) Chris Elliott on Lancaster's flight deck

A version of the new clothing was tried out in several ships and submarines three years ago – with the feedback given by sailors (pockets snagging and unpopular belts) used to adapt the final version being issued.

The uniform change was carried out under the tutelage of former Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, who said the input of sailors was vital.

“We have trialled it extensively and the feedback has been mostly positive, resulting in producing something which our sailors want to wear,” he said.

“It is time for the individuals in the Navy to change the way they are presented. We have always been professional, but we did look a bit out of date.

“This is a modern uniform which suits a modern Navy. But the most important thing is that it is comfortable to wear in the extremes of climate in which the Royal Navy operates – from the Antarctic to the Gulf.”

Some 22,000 sets of the new uniform are being ordered – the stores at Nelson alone are responsible for issuing more than 62,000 items to more than 4,300 sailors in 102 units by the beginning of August.

It will take around 12 months for the entire front-line RN to be issued, with entire ships or units receiving it in one go.